Posts tagged ‘Joy’

Growing Homes and Envious Hearts

Not long before our second child was born, my wife and I decided that it was time to upsize the square footage of our home.  Kids, it turns out, come with lots of stuff.  Our first home was a testament to that.  Closets and corners were packed with everything from diapers to clothes to lots and lots of toys.  We wanted enough room to spread out and stretch out a bit.  So, we put our home on the market and moved into a new, larger home, which, as you probably have already guessed, now has closets and corners packed with even more kids’ stuff.  No matter how much space you have, you always seem to find stuff to fill it.

The move toward larger homes is a decades-old trend.  Joe Pinsker, in an article published last week for The Atlantic, writes:

American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be.  In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015.

This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that – 971 square feet – four decades later.

But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.  “Despite a major upscaling of single-family houses since 1980,” writes Clément Bellet, a postdoctoral fellow at the European business school INSEAD, “house satisfaction has remained steady in American suburbs.”

Larger homes, Mr. Pinsker reports, are not making for happier families.  Why?  It’s not because we don’t like the extra space.  I certainly appreciate the space in my home – and so do others.  It turns out that our happiness has very little to do with the amount of space we have in our own homes.  Instead, it has to do with the amount of space our neighbors have in their homes:

The largest houses seem to be the ones that all the other homeowners base their expectations on … Bellet sketches out an unfulfilling cycle of one-upmanship, in which the owners of the biggest homes are most satisfied if their home remains among the biggest, and those who rank right below them grow less satisfied as their dwelling looks ever more measly by comparison.

In other words, we’re satisfied with what we have until we see what somebody else has.  In this way, our dissatisfaction with our homes isn’t really a home problem.  It’s a heart problem.  It’s a struggle with envy.

Envy is a sin that’s virtually as old as, well, dirt.  When Adam is first fashioned out of dirt, it is envy that brings him down when Satan tempts he and his wife with the specter that they can “be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  “Instead of being created from dust by God,” Satan says, “you can be sovereigns with glory like God’s.  Why live in a Garden when you can reign from heaven?  I’m pretty sure heaven has more square footage.  Wouldn’t that be nice?”  Satan hooks Adam and Eve by appealing to their envy.  And so, in envy, they try to stage a coup against God.  But instead of becoming more like God in majesty, they become mere mortals who die.

In the Ninth Commandment, God commands: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (Exodus 20:17).  The desire for something that someone else has – including the very specific desire for someone else’s home – is nothing new.  But it’s also nothing helpful.  Which is why God warns against it.

As Mr. Pinsker notes in the conclusion of his article, there are good reasons to be satisfied with where you live, even if where you live feels a little small at times:

“The big house represents the atomizing of the American family,” a historian of landscape development told NPR for a story on gargantuan American homes back in 2006.  “Each person not only has his or her own television – each person has his or her own bathroom … This way, the family members rarely have to interact.”  It’s comfortable, in a way, but maybe also lonely.

Square footage that is gained may translate into closeness that is lost.  So, tonight, make sure you give your spouse and your kids a hug that last a little longer than usual – no matter how big or small your home is.  After all, your foundation, frame, walls, windows, doors, and drywall don’t really make your home.  They do.

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June 17, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Easter MorningThe women on that first Easter went to the tomb to mourn.  They went to mourn the loss of their friend.  They went to mourn the loss of, for one of the women, a family member.  They went to mourn the loss of hope.  Of course, when they arrived the tomb, they got something they had never bargained for.  They were greeted by a glorious being with an unlikely message: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:5-6).

It was on Easter morning that these women, to use the words of the prophet Jeremiah, had their “mourning [turned] into gladness” and received “comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).

Mourning may not be pleasant, but it is needed.  In many ways, I would argue that we don’t mourn enough.  At funerals, rather than addressing the reality of death, people will often try to dull the pain of a loss by casting the service in terms of a celebration of the person who has died.  A eulogist will say something like, “This person wouldn’t have wanted us to be sad!”  Mourning, which is nothing other than the natural and inescapable response to something as heinous as death, is dismissed, downplayed, and depressed in favor of a skin-deep smile.

To make matters worse, when we are not mourning something as intense as the loss of a loved one, we can wind up jettisoning mourning altogether. We not only try to moderate our mourning, we can replace our mourning with something different entirely.

There is plenty that should command our mournfulness.  Greed, corruption, malfeasance, and general godlessness should pain us all.  Sadly, rather than mourning these things, we often trade mourning for grumbling.  This seems especially true in the political arena.  We grumble about health care.  We grumble about immigration.  We grumble about political constituencies that are not our political constituencies.  But replacing mourning with grumbling is dangerous.

The ancient Israelites were experts at grumbling.  Exodus 16:2 says, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”  Numbers 14:2 repeats the same refrain: “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!’”  The ancient Israelites were experts at grumbling.  But their grumbling carried with it consequences.  The Psalmist recounts the story of Israel during her wandering in the wilderness and says: “They grumbled in their tents and did not obey the LORD. So He swore to them with uplifted hand that He would make them fall in the wilderness” (Psalm 106:25-26).  The apostle Paul admonishes his readers to “not grumble, as some of [the Israelites] did – and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:10).  Clearly, God has little time or tolerance for grumbling.  Why?  Because grumbling leads nowhere good.  It leads to rebellion.  The Israelites grumbled about God and then built a golden calf in rebellion against God.  It leads to revenge.  Cain grumbled about his brother Abel’s sacrifice to God right before he killed his brother.  Grumbling leads to sin.  James puts it quite succinctly when he writes, “Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (James 5:9).

There is plenty for us, in our day, to mourn.  But sincere mourning over sin is quite different from self-righteous grumbling against sinners.  One perpetuates sin by doing little more than whining about it.  The other fights sin by asking the Lord to rescue us from it.

In a world filled with grumbling, may we remember how to mourn.  And may we also believe Christ’s promise: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).  Mourning, Jesus says, is blessed.  Grumbling, Scripture warns, is condemned.  Let’s make sure we’re doing what God blesses rather than falling prey to what He condemns.

March 28, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Some Much Needed Rest

Rest Area 2This past weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about the importance of working smarter rather than harder.  The poster child for the opposite – working harder rather than smarter – was Moses, who, after he explained to his father-in-law Jethro how he was serving as the sole arbiter and judge for all of Israel’s disputes, was told by his father-in-law, “What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).  Blessedly, Moses humbly swallowed his pride and, in Exodus 18:24, we read, “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.”

Moses may have had the good sense to listen to his father-in-law and delegate some of his duties to other trustworthy Israelites, but, even with some much needed help, Moses’ responsibilities did not suddenly became light and easy.  Jethro admits as much when, after encouraging Moses to share his workload with others, he says, “If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain” (Exodus 18:23).  Moses’ responsibilities, though fewer, will continue to be straining and stressful.  There will still be plenty for Moses to do.

Perhaps you can relate to Moses.  After all, you, like Moses, have probably been told of the importance of working smarter and not harder.  Yet, no matter how many time management principles you implement and no matter how many tasks you delegate, you, like Moses, may still find yourself awash in a sea of obligations and unexpected troubles that can become overwhelming at times.  What do you do when the principles of working smarter rather than harder fail you?  Jesus shows the way.

Mark 6 proves to be one of the most tragic in the Gospel.  Jesus’ dear friend and cousin, John the Baptist, is beheaded at the behest of Herod Antipas’ stepdaughter.  Jesus is understandably distraught.  But Jesus’ jam-packed calendar of ministry marches on.  In the episode immediately succeeding John the Baptist’s untimely death, Mark notes, “So many people were coming and going that Jesus and His disciples did not even have a chance to eat” (Mark 6:31).  Jesus may be mourning, but the crowds still want to see Him.

It is with the memory of Jesus’ cousin weighing in on Him and the throngs of curiosity seekers pressing down around Him that Jesus issues an invitation to His disciples, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).

Jesus’ invitation is fascinating.  Though Jesus Himself is certainly tired and emotionally spent, Jesus’ primary concern is not with Himself, but with His disciples.  The verbs of His invitation – “come” and “get some rest” – are second person plural verbs.  That is, Jesus is saying to His followers, “You come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and you get some rest.”  Jesus, knowing that His disciples are exhausted even as He is exhausted, nevertheless has compassion on His disciples and invites them to get some rest by spending time with Him.

Jesus, it seems, is a man of boundless compassion.  He has compassion on His disciples when He invites them to rest with Him.  When Jesus’ plans for a peaceful getaway are foiled because large crowds follow Him to His destination, Mark notes, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So He began teaching them many things” (Mark 6:34).  Jesus has compassion on the crowds when He cancels His vacation plans to preach them a sermon.  Following His sermon, when He finds out the crowds He has been teaching are hungry, He has compassion on the multitudes by holding history’s first potluck.  When everyone else forgets to bring a side dish, Jesus takes the meager offering of a little boy – five loaves and two fish – and multiplies it to feed five thousand.

As He does on the disciples when they are tired and as He does on the crowds when they are spiritually lost and physically hungry, Jesus has compassion on you too.  When your life is straining and stressful, Jesus understands.  After all, He has gone through straining and stressful times too – losing loved ones and being exhausted by the rigors of day-to-day ministry.  But Jesus doesn’t just empathize, He can also help.  For the same invitation He offers to His disciples, He extends to you:  “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31).  Or, as He puts it another time:  “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

No time management principle – no matter how good it may be – can remove all stress and strain from life.  For life is full of the unexpected.  But no stress or strain – no matter how heavy – can destroy the peace and rest that Jesus gives.  For the peace and rest that Jesus gives is not based on life’s circumstances, but on His promise.  And His promise is stronger than life’s stresses.

So go away with Jesus and get some rest.  You need it.

January 28, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – “Rejoice…Always!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  This verse has always frustrated me.  Not because I think it is somehow incorrect.  Quite the contrary, I believe the command to rejoice is a divine and a good command.  No, this verse has always frustrated me because I’m no good at it.  The command is clear:  I am to rejoice in the Lord always.  I, however, seem to manage to rejoice in the Lord only sometimes.  There are plenty of moments when I either find my joy in something other than the Lord or I lose my sense of joy altogether.  I fail miserably at following this command.

It’s far too easy, when reading a verse like this, to chalk up Paul’s language here to a bit of hyperbole – a bit of overstatement just to make his point.  “Surely Paul wasn’t being rigidly literal!” we might whisper to ourselves.  “As long as I rejoice in the Lord sometimes, or even most of the time, I’m sure the Lord will be content with my best efforts.”  But when our God gives commands, He does not hand out “A’s” for effort.  He actually expects us to follow His mandates.  And this mandate is clear:  We are to rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can this happen?  On the one hand, we must confess that it doesn’t happen – at least on this side of heaven.  As I admitted above, I certainly fall short in the joy department.  But I can rejoice that God forgives me through Christ for my lack of rejoicing.  As with every other command of God, this is a command which we do not – and, because of our sinful natures, cannot – follow.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Paul does not give this command to rejoice without offering us a roadmap to joy when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  In verse 4, when Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, the Greek word for always is pas.  In verse 6, when Paul tells us address everything with prayer and petition, the Greek word for “everything” is pas.  Here, then, is how we are to rejoice in the Lord during everything – we are to encounter everything with Him through prayer and petition.  That trial that we face – we are to face it with the Lord.  That triumph that we enjoy – we are to enjoy it with the Lord.  That question that we have – we are to ask it to the Lord.  We are to live our lives with a keen awareness that we live with the Lord.  For as long as we are with the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice.  This is why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Rejoicing, then, begins not with an effort to conjure up joy, but with an awareness of God’s continual presence.  It begins with an awareness that, as Paul states, “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).  He is near in time – for His second coming is imminent.  And He is near in space – for He promises to always be with us.  And when you are aware of God’s presence and closeness, which is an indication of His care, concern, and compassion for us, it’s hard to anything but rejoice…always. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!

November 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Serious Joy

“Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:9-10).  Now that’s some big time joy!  After all, the wise men didn’t just rejoice, they rejoiced exceedingly.  And they didn’t only have joy, they had great joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven” (Letters to Malcolm, 93).  Dallas Willard puts it like this:  “God is the happiest being in the universe” (“Wide Awake,” Leadership, Fall 1994).  Thus, when the wise men “rejoice exceedingly with great joy,” they are simply reflecting the character of God by responding appropriately to the gift of God.  They respond with joy to Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many of us do not heed C.S. Lewis’ call to take joy seriously nearly seriously enough.  We are all too often content with being bitter, anxious, or forlorn.  But joy is not only the serious business of heaven, it is also the serious business of Christians on earth.  This is why Paul, when speaking of the fruit of the Spirit, places joy only second to love (cf. Galatians 5:22).  He elsewhere says, “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).  Joy, then, is not an option, but a command!

With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on how joyful you really are.  Here are some questions that may help you think about your joyfulness:

  • When was the last time a person made you smile with a kind action or gift?
  • How often do you chuckle at the marvel of God’s creation – whether it be a pet who does something goofy or a scene from nature which brings a smile to your face?
  • When you worship, does your heart leap within you as it did with the Psalmist (cf. Psalm 28:7)?
  • When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Certainly life comes with its ups and downs and, sometimes, things can become so wearisome that joy is the farthest thing from your mind.  Indeed, during these times, you may even look at Paul’s admonition to “be joyful always” with a mild contempt and silently grumble about the unrealistic nature of such a command.  But it is at times like these that it is important to remember that joy is not only a command, it is a gift.  It is a gift to dull a hard season and heal a broken heart.  And it is a gift that comes straight from the character of God.

Hard seasons are things the wise men knew well.  For they arrived at Bethlehem only after a long journey from an undisclosed location back east, followed by an interrogation from a menacing despot named Herod.  The wise men had a lot to be stressed and upset about.  But they nevertheless found joy because they nevertheless found Jesus.  And Jesus is where true joy is to be found.

So are you feeling stressed and upset?  Does joy elude you?  Like the wise men, cling to the cradle of the Christ.  For in the gurgle of this Child is the joy of the ages.  In the words of Johann Sebastian Bach:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 10, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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